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Baker's Dozen

Beauty From Trauma: Paul Mendez' Favourite Music
Paul Flynn , October 7th, 2020 08:40

Pop is all over Rainbow Milk, the Gordon Burn Prize-nominated debut novel by Paul Mendez. Here he tells Paul Flynn how a love of Marvin Gaye, Beyonce, Solange, Joy Division and Missy Elliott gave him a clearer understanding of his sexuality and racial identity


The Four Tops – Reach Out
I needed something from the classic Motown, Holland Dozier Holland years. There are three absolute classics on this record; ‘Reach Out (I’ll Be There)’, ‘Standing In The Shadows Of Love’ and ‘Bernadette’. After ‘Bernadette’, Holland Dozier Holland have their argument with the label hierarchy, say ‘we’re not being paid enough, we aren’t respected enough, we’re going on strike’. Berry Gordy took a chance – which I think was the wrong one, bad for both parties – and they left him. But if you look at the work they did together, the best output from The Supremes, Four Tops, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, that string of hits is unrivalled. It seeped into my sub-soul from childhood, from my mother’s childhood. I saw Four Tops albums and singles in my grandparents’ house.

Pop music like this record plugs the gap of the Black history we’re not allowed. That’s why fiction is so important to the Black experience. History just isn’t there, at least not written by us, especially on a quotidian, working class level. We don’t have the primers. We don’t have the memoirs, the non-fiction books from that time, written by us. Even going further back, to 18th, 19th century black history. The only way we can tell those stories now is through fiction, the old books by Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince. Even then, they are slave narratives framed by a white patron in order to bolster the abolitionist cause. They contributed to abolition, great. But I want to see stories about us, by us, on our terms.